A few years ago, the race was on to kit out an airline’s entire fleet with fully-flat, all-aisle access seats in business class, as this was a quantifiable benefit from competitors who were offering either angled lie-flat or seats that didn’t feature aisle access.
A few key seats became de-facto benchmarks in passenger expectations, including the Cirrus, Apex and Super Diamond seats, which could be customised to develop bespoke passenger experiences while benefitting from an ‘off the shelf’ solution.
Roll on a few years, where most of global game players can now say that (at least) the majority of their long-haul fleets offer fully-flat beds and all-aisle access and once again, the playing field is levelling itself, where the only true differentiators are found in the soft product, catering or ground services. It’s no secret we are in an era of weight saving and cost-cutting, where every gram on board is accounted for, so cabin designers are constantly put under pressure to reduce weight.
So how are seat manufacturers trying to vie for the attention of the airlines? Surely passenger comfort in business class is so good that many airlines are retiring their first class product and all that passengers really require is a good nights’ sleep and enough space and amenities to warrant a higher class fare? Thanks to a LOPA that is so refined many seat designers are competing for an inch in either direction (they say every inch counts!) but the only real advancements can be seen in evolving the seat product.
Cue a wave of seats that offer wireless charging, individual lighting, larger screens and doors. We’ve entered an era where the passenger experience is treated as a commodity, designers and airlines are now celebrating new enhancements that are beneficial to a passenger experience, but not a deciding factor in the booking process.
We understand the desire for a door. In fact, most people here will recognise the timeline of discovering your seat has a door. Firstly, as you board, the smug feeling as you enter a suite, which you’ve automatically upgraded in your mind from just a seat, to a suite. Then, if you are travelling with a companion the slow motion joy on your face as you close the door, facing your travelling companion with glee that such a gimmick has been built in to your ticket price. Then, this glee quickly turns in to an ever decreasing spiral of annoyance.
Door closed, you realise you aren’t able to communicate with the crew, who repeatedly open it during the boarding process to provide you with a never ending array of menus, pre-departure drinks, amenity kits and orders taken before take off. Then once the parade of service elements comes to an end, a sigh of relief as your privacy is maintained, until you are told the doors need to remain open for take off.
As your aircraft hurtles down the runway, the doors, which usually rattle, often swing to a partially closed position, becoming a part of the seat that constantly requires attention, like a puppy or newborn child. As the service continues, doors open and close, no different to the privacy screen debacle found on BA’s Club World9 . Eventually, when dining has ended and the next flight stage is sleep, doors are closed, eye-masks are donned and a sense of calm ensues.
But it raises a question, are doors an amenity that passengers actually need? After all, a door gives a sense of privacy, but only after check-in, security, lounge, boarding and take-off after which privacy becomes of lesser importance. After all, you’ve probably already seen the Disney movie that the businessman is watching guilt-free knowing no-one he actually knows is on board, at which point, privacy becomes a little redundant. And airlines have to consider the weight implication of these doors, which aren’t lighter, and eat in to the available passenger space, making the seats and storage smaller enhancing the claustrophobic feel.
While passengers like doors, they probably don’t realise the added fuel burn that comes with them and eventual cost implications that these hold to their tickets. Instead of features such as doors, we believe airlines should be focussing on passenger experience elements that actually make a difference, such as chauffeur-drive, pyjamas, dine-on-demand, connectivity and beneficial airline schemes that reward those who fly regularly with them. But where does that leave seat designers, apart from a conundrum – what is next for the Business Class experience that really will change the way we fly?